Crematoria Consultation DCLG



DCLG Review of Crematoria Provision and Facilities

 Spiritual, Material & Educational dimensions of the
Cremation Process from the Dharmic Perspective


Summary of Requirements for Hindu Cremation facilities.
The elements of the cremation process specifically to do with the Crematoria premises, which would enable Hindus (and generally followers of Dharmic traditions) to complete religious cremation rites are as summarized below (explanations follow):-
⦁    Unrestricted flues above pyres.
⦁    The option of full visibility of the body during the cremation process – (not necessarily an open air pyre).
⦁    The facility for circumambulation around the pyre would be desirable but not critical.
⦁    The ability to accommodate several hundred persons as witnesses to the cremation, with appropriate provision for parking and access.
⦁    The absence of all non Dharmic symbols such as Crucifixes etc – the premises should be “religion neutral”
⦁    The availability of water for ritual purification and washing of hands.
⦁    Proximity to running water, i.e. rivers etc preferred.
⦁    Multiple pyres are perfectly acceptable
Not critical aspects are:-
⦁    Crematoria can be located outside and away from urban areas (we have no memorial aspect requiring or desiring to revisit the premises to tend to a grave or a memorial etc)
⦁    Memorial gardens provide a healing dimension but are not required or they can be quite small in size with proportionately more space made available for parking.

This document has been produced in response to the “Consultation on Crematoria Provision” initiated by the DCLG and following meetings with DCLG by Satish K Sharma (NCHTUK), Trupti Patel (HFB) and with contributions from Shri Anant M Vyas. Please be aware that the processes followed by adherents of Sanatan Dharma (Hindusim) have been conceived, devised and guided by lineages of Sages and Rishi’s over thousands of years. This document seeks to convey some of the key aspects of these guidelines and underlying philosophy’s, as supported by relevant scriptural statements..  – it is not a document produced by consultation or validated by a democratic process, which would be inappropriate, nor does it seek to satisfy the modern day beliefs and sentiments of all Hindu’s. It is a statement of existing practice and established process intended to provide substance and support for the deeper understanding of the process of transition of a soul from one level of existence to the next and rests on the sophisticated and sufficiently established principles of Reincarnation recorded and repeated through-out the Hindu Scriptures and increasingly evidenced and accepted by modern day research scientists (ref Dr Ian Stevenson –UVA).
It is understood that an essence of a person separates and is absent at the stage called death, following which the body can be returned, respectfully and with gratitude, to the Mother Earth from which all elements of the body are constituted. Hindus devised the Cremation process to best serve the departing essence (atma), the remaining relatives and society, and the environment.


varanasi 2

Crematoria Specific requirements for Hindu-compliant Crematoria
⦁    Unrestricted flues above pyres.
The spiritual essence of the being, if released during cremation and not prior, needs to have unimpeded freedom to leave its material confines and physical elements with minimum impediment. The flue design should facilitate this departure.
⦁    The option of full visibility of the body during the cremation process – (not necessarily an open air pyre).
A glazed enclosed pyre would be acceptable. The desire is for as many persons to witness the consumption by fire of the body as necessary and possible. The process of death is one with which a Hindu should be fully conversant prior to their own transition. It is recognized as a perfectly normal everyday part of the experience of life and not shunned nor shrouded in religious mystique. The more one is aware of this, the greater ones acceptance of its inevitability and even necessity, the less the shock, the less the pain of separation and the less the suffering. It is our understanding that the departed atma can remain in the proximity of its body and relatives for a number of days following separation and that it suffers greatly if relatives prolong their emotional pain. Mature preparation of all persons for this event serves the departed to progress on its onward journey and also diminishes the suffering of those left behind.
⦁    The facility for circumambulation around the pyre would be desirable but not critical.
At present the last rites are performed at the former residence of the departed and a significant part of the rites involves the coffin being opened and friends and family expressing last farewells by circumambulating the departed and depositing flower petals into the coffin. If the complete process were to be provided for at the Crematorium, circumambulation would be required. On occasion the former residence is not suitable for such rites and the possibility of completing all rites at the Crematoria would be of great use in the future.
⦁    The ability to accommodate several hundred persons as witnesses to the cremation, with appropriate provision for parking and access.
As has been expressed above, the maximum number of persons who can witness the cremation and attain the maximum level of both closure and also experience of the end of our bodies, the better for all concerned.
⦁    The absence of all non Dharmic symbols such as Crucifixes etc – the premises should be “religion neutral”.
The Dharmic traditions are non evangelical and have a revulsion for the manner in which monopolistic theocracies subliminally intrude into the lives of our communities and traditions. The time of death is one of great vulnerability and in order for this stage to be navigated with minimum disruption and for tranquility to return with the minimum level of cultural, social and spiritual upheaval,   the crematoria must be devoid of evangelical or religious symbols.
⦁    The availability of water for ritual purification and washing of hands.
⦁    Proximity to running water, i.e. rivers etc preferred.
A time may come in the future when all British rivers have been deemed consecrated, with provision for the safe immersion of ashes and in anticipation of that possibility, proximity to a river may be a positive.
⦁    Multiple pyres are perfectly acceptable.
In India it is perfectly acceptable for multiple cremations to be  conducted concurrently as evidenced by the proceedings at Manikarnika Ghat in Varanasi.

Explanations and supporting philosophy.
Hindus do not accept the concept of bodily resurrection and the reuniting of each soul with its physical body, hence they place no importance on preserving the body. The Hindu understanding of the process of Reincarnation gives assurance that death is merely the soul's release from the current life and current physical form. An ancient text puts it simply, "Even as the snake sloughs off its skivaranasi 1n, even as the bird leaves its shell, even as in its waking state the soul forgets happenings of the dream state, thus does the soul migrate from one body to another..." (Tirumantiram 2132). 

A fully prepared Hindu shall love death as he loves this life.  New bodies are donned by the dweller, like garments.   Death is viewed in a positive light: as a transition from one life on the road towards a progressively better one, with an ultimate return to merging with consciousness tranquillity at the final Paramapada (the ultimate place). Reincarnation is viewed as a never-ending set of cyclical births until final liberation.

One may be reincarnated millions of times. Escape from the weary cycle of reincarnation can be achieved through merging into “a Divine unchanging anonymous Absolute" and. The purpose of human life for the Hindu is to "get off the wheel of incarnation" to escape the cycle and merge finally with the Oneness that was there before the present cycle of Creation began.

Methods used on the path of escaping reincarnation include yoga, charity, grace , kindness, simple living, or living as per the laws/interrelationships of the universe (dharma). Death is only another station on our soul’s journey to the perfect life ultimate. Once we understand what life really is, then without a shred of doubt, the transition know in the west as death, loses its horror.

The reality of our life continues.  The process of dying is similar to that of birth. To be born into a material life is a very natural event. The soul changes spheres. To die is to be born into the spiritual worlds.

Hindus accept that the body is made up of five elements which are earth, water, air, fire and “akaash” and that fire restores these five elements to their respective sources at death.  Holy fire is the purifying agent that enables the soul to be liberated from the physical body. Usually the body is desired to be cremated within six hours, and preferably on the very day the death occurs.

Death is only separation of the jivatma (individualised soul) from the physical body .The jivatma leaves the body as soon as the person dies. The rites and processes surrounding Cremation in Hinduism are also intended to induce a feeling of detachment into the freshly disembodied atma, lest it remain near its former body for too long. For the Family, the core principle underpinning a funeral is to show respect and appreciation for the departed contribution and participation in life, not sadness.  
Hindus experience the atma as being indestructible; and that death symbolises the end of the existence of a person's physical being, but the start of a new journey for the atma. This atma then reincarnates in some other life form, and passes through the same cycle of taking birth, growing and eventually again meeting death- only to begin the cycle afresh.

The Funeral and Cremation Processes

Traditionally in India, before the cremation, the body is brought home, washed, clothed, garlanded and laid on its back on the floor, head pointing south as the region of Yama, the personification of death, is in the south. A lamp is lit and placed near the head of the body and this lamp is not to be extinguished until the body is cremated. A vigil is kept until the time of the cremation.  Whilst the body is in the house no family member or immediate close neighbour eats, drinks, nor works.

Relatives and friends pay their last respects by walking round the body and by placing some flowers on it. They offer condolences by only touching the hands of the grieving family members. As this is a solemn moment, no food is prepared or served in a house where a death has occurred and neighbours and relatives provide food for the family of the departed.

Since cremation should not take place after dark, if the person dies during the daylight hours, preparations should be hastily made so that the cremation can take place before sunset.  Otherwise the body should be taken after sunrise the next day.  The body should be burned before decomposition sets in.

After the body has been prepared it is carried by male relatives on a flower-draped bamboo bier to the cremation grounds, or ghats. Traditionally there is no requirement for a coffin.  Male relatives that carry the shrouded body chant “Rama Nama Satya Hai,” the Name of Divinity is the only Reality”. The eldest son or next of kin traditionally take the lead, having been purified in a special ritual and will carry a fire kindled in the home of the deceased. In Varanasi the fire at Manikarnika has been continuously burning for over 3,500 years.

The fire is carried in a black earthen pot. The bearers of the body would be bathed, shoeless and without upper cloth on their bodies.  The male members of the procession would also be without upper cloth, and their hair would be unbound.

At the cremation site, the services of a priest are engaged.  The eldest son performs the ceremony as directed by the priest or elder. If there is no son in the family, an elder male relative performs the ceremony. The body is placed with the head pointing south. The eldest son carries a pot of water on his left shoulder, using his right hand to hold the pot in place. He has to circumambulate (or go around) the body three times in an anti-clockwise direction, from left to right. The younger sons if any follow behind him. The pyre is circumambulated counterclockwise– for everything is backward at the time of death. Even the dead body is taken out of the house feet first.  

When the eldest son circumambulates the body, the priest makes a hole in the pot so as to allow water to flow out of it. Water is important as it is a purifying agent. Each time he circumambulates, a hole is made. In the first circumambulation, the water that flows symbolises the departure of the soul from this world. During the second circumambulation, the water that flows is to purify the atmosphere. During the third circumambulation, the water that flows is to lead the soul to heaven.

After the third circumambulation, the son faces north and throws the pot over the shoulder southwards, over his back. .. He is not to look back. The symbolises the break with the earth.
He goes to the foot of the body where a pot of fire which is brought from the home has been placed.  He takes a twig or cinder and lights it with the fire from the pot.   The priest reads sacred verses from the Garuda Purana, speeding the dead person’ soul to its next life.

Chants from 7000 year old Rig Veda: "Release him again, O Agni (fire), to the fathers. The one offered to you now proceeds to his destiny. Putting on new life, let him approach the surviving, let him reunite with a [new] body, All-Knowing One!" (10. 16. 5).

Chants from Atharva veda: "Oh, departed soul, your lifeless body is offered so that the two fires may unite for your salvation. I set the body on fire. Through those two fires you may go in your best state of Yama, who controls death."

Verse of Sri Isopanishad,  "Let this temporary body be burnt to ashes, and let the air of life be merged with the totality of air. Now, O my Lord, please remember all my sacrifices, and because You are the ultimate Beneficiary, please remember all that I have done for You."

Sri Isa Upanishad 17 " O my Lord, powerful as the fire, Omnipotent One, now I do offer You all obeisance,. O my Lord, please lead me on the right path to reach You, and, as You know all of what I have done in the past, please make me free from the reactions to my past transgressions, so that there will be no hindrance to my progress."

Prayers and hymns from the Hindu scriptures such as the Bhagavad Gita are recited while the body burns. They express the vision of reincarnation: "For to one that is born, death is certain; and to one that dies, birth is certain. Therefore do not grieve over what is unavoidable." The mourners leave.

The next day the next of kin returns to pick the bones and collect the ashes which are then put into an earthen pot. The pot is placed into a flowing river ( Ganges, Thirunelli  etc)  where there is little likelihood of it coming back to land. The mourning period is usually ten, fifteen days or a year from the date of death in the Hindu almanac.
After the cremation, the family may have a meal and offer prayers in their home. Mourners wash and change completely before entering the house after the funeral. A priest will visit and purify the house with spices and incense

Everything is energy and none of this energy is ever lost! Life on earth is only an intermediate station on the pathway of the soul, a journey whose purpose is to reach its original pureness, its original light-power, its original high vibration, by developing spiritually higher.. The soul is the "book of life” and all negative things burden our soul, shadow and darken it.

Positive thoughts and actions relieve the soul and make it more light-filled. The soul, which is so strongly oriented to this life on earth, remains more or less connected with the physical body through energy streams even after it has left it. It clings to its physical "house," so to speak, because it thinks that life is possible solely in a material body.

If  the dead body is  buried, the soul still maintains a connection to its body. If a person has already aligned his soul with higher regions, his soul will be attracted by higher worlds after its disembodiment during cremation.  A soul’s capacity to feel is much more sensitive than that of a human being.  It suffers from the pain which the person’s relatives feel on its account.

Death is separation of the soul from the physical body. Death becomes the starting point of a new and better life. Death does not end your personality and self-consciousness. It merely opens the door to a higher form of life. Death is only the gateway to a fuller life. Just as a man casting off worn-out garments, takes new ones, so the dweller in this body, casting off worn-out bodies, enters into others which are new.

Death is not the end of life. Life is one continuous never-ending process. Death is only a passing and necessary phenomenon, which every soul has to pass to gain experience for its further evolution. A man of discrimination and wisdom is not afraid of death. He knows that death is the gate of life. Death to him is no longer a skeleton bearing a sword to cut the thread of life, but rather an friend who has a golden key to unlock for him the door to a wider, fuller and happier existence.

Mind borrows its light from the soul. Soul is beyond the realm of physical science. Soul is beyond the reach of material science. Man is a soul wearing a physical body. Soul is extremely subtle. It is subtler than ether, mind and energy.

Soul is the immortal part in man. Hindus do not identify with this body. You are not this perishable body. You are the Immortal Soul. Identify yourself with the soul. “Tat Tvam Asi—Thou art That”. Feel this. Realise this and be free.

The doctrine of transmigration gives ample scope for the individual to correct and educate himself in future births. The human body is only a vesture and dwelling place for the immortal soul. The soul can certainly re-inhabit another dwelling place and put on another vesture in order to develop and realise better than before the Divine plan and purpose for it. Vedanta says that there is hope of salvation even for the worst person.

The union of the soul with a particular body is known as birth and its separation therefrom is called death, when the soul leaves its physical sheath, it transmigrates into another body- human. Birth follows death just as waking follows sleep. You will again resume the work that was left off by you in your previous life. Therefore, do not be afraid of death.

A few celebrities among hundreds who chose cremation-- Sigmund Freud, Albert Einstein , Robert Oppenheimer , Arthur Rubenstein,  Harpo Marx ,Neville Chamberlain, Alexander Fleming, Greta Garbo, George Harrison, John F. Kennedy, Rudyard Kipling, John Lennon, George Bernard Shaw, Marlon Brando, Alfred Hitchcock Rock Hudson, Jill Ireland ,John F. Kennedy Jr. ,Vivian Leigh, Groucho Marx, Robert Mitchum, Steve McQueen ,Christopher Reeve, Neil Armstrong , Edmund Hillary,H. G. Wells etc.  Cremation is the future and its knowledge a gift of Hinduism and India to all of Humanity.



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